Harvard’s Belfer Center Concludes Russia is Not in Decline; Soft Power Increases; Poll Reveals Europeans Don’t See Russia as Major Threat

Monument of Peter the Great, St. Petersburg, Russia
Monument of Peter the Great, St. Petersburg, Russia; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015

Reports of Russia’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

That’s the conclusion of Simon Saradzhyan,  a researcher with the Belfer Center at Harvard University, who analyzed Russia, from 1999 to the present, using several different models of performance.   These models take into consideration GDP, energy consumption, steel production, urban population density, and military strength.

[It should be noted that these models didn’t take into consideration other significant markers in which Russia rates well, such as levels of education and infrastructure – Natylie]

According to Saradzhyan:

Taken together, these measures suggest strongly that Russia has either risen or retained its position relative to its five competitors [U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and Italy] and the world as a whole so far in the 21st century.

It is well known that the Russian economy stopped growing in 2014 and started declining. The World Bank estimates that Russians GDP shrank by 3.7 per cent in 2015 and that it is poised to shrink by up 1.9 per cent in 2016, before starting to grow again next year. However, the losses of these three years will not erase the cumulative gain in Russia’s power as a nation since 1999.

Looking forward, Russia faces a number of long-term challenges, including an obsolete and inefficient economic model, poor quality of governance, pervasive corruption, demographic fragility, instability in neighbouring countries and separatist threats to Russia itself.

We don’t know yet whether and when these challenges may acquire such an acute character that they may reverse the resurgence of Putin’s Russia described above. One thing is certain, however: Russia’s size, resources and military might all ensure that it remains a global player that will continue to affect the western world and the global order as a whole in profound ways for years to come, and should be treated accordingly.


Note:  the original article, which appears at the Financial Times, is behind a pay wall, but you can read the full article here:





The British PR firm Portland Communications has determined that Russia has increased its soft power and has now made it into their top 30 ranking of countries with respect to soft power, noting specifically:


The highest place that Russia took in an individual category was that of “engagement” (8th out of 30 countries), which primarily implies diplomacy and influence in the international arena. The study’s authors point out that, along with the U.S., Russia has played a key role in efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement in Syria.


….Listing the other strengths of Russia, the study’s authors noted the wide coverage of its state-owned media among international audiences and the preservation of some of its economic power in spite of the country’s financial crisis over the last few years.


Portland Communications placed a specific emphasis on Russia’s rich culture.


“Russia’s global cultural appeal draws in more than 29 million tourists annually,” it said. “Whether it’s history, art or literature, Russian culture is widely appreciated and studied.”



Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Pew has revealed that, despite hysterical claims by some western politicians and corporate media, most Europeans do not consider Russia to be a major threat, citing instead ISIS, climate change, the influx of refugees and economic instability as far greater concerns, as reported by EU Observer:

More than half of Europeans said climate change, economic instability and cyber-attacks were “dire” threats. A little less than half also named the number of refugees coming from Iraq and Syria as a “major” challenge.


But just one in three EU nationals put “tensions with Russia” in the same category.


Pew interviewed 11,494 people in April and May from France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US.


The 10 European countries account for 80 percent of the EU population and 82 percent of its combined GDP.


The results indicated a divide between EU leaders and public opinion.


Full article can be read here:


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